There's war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Worries about nukes in Pakistan and Iran. Economic uncertainty and soaring gas prices.
Isn't it time America had a new superhero? You know, just in case that whole Messiah for Change thing doesn't work out in the presidential campaign?
Well, a couple of local storytellers, Darius LaMonica and Sleet, and Atlanta artist John Cox, have created a comic-book hero for our troubled times. They have combined their admiration for the U.S. military with their worries about Islamic fundamentalism and their studies of previous clashes between Muslims and the West. Oh, and they are really ticked off about Captain America's demise last year.
Their hero, and his story, are sort of a cross between the old Sgt. Rock comics and The Six Million Dollar Man TV show, with a dash of graphic novelist Frank Miller, the genius behind 300 and Sin City.
And this new hero's sobriquet couldn't be more politically incorrect: Santiago Matamoros, a.k.a. St. James the Moor Slayer.
We meet Matamoros when he's just a not-so-mild-mannered Chuck Sobietti, a 17-year career NCO recovering from an IED blast in a hospital at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
According to LaMonica, of Conshohocken, Sobietti is named for two kings who stopped Muslim invasions of Europe: Charles Martel, who saved southern France in the 8th century, and Polish King John Sobieski, whose army rode to Vienna's rescue to stop the Ottomans in 1683.
Sobietti wants to get back to his unit, but he's lost most of his right arm and has a badly damaged lung and liver. When he becomes eligible for an experimental procedure, he's whisked off to Fort Hood, Texas. There, thanks to the magic of stem cells and comic-book medicine, both organs and his arm are regenerated. Unbeknownst to him, he's also picked up a superhuman ability or two that will come in handy later in fighting terrorists.
Alas, Sobietti doesn't return to the battlefield - or even stay in the service. But he does find a use for his military training and government-issued body. Right here at home, he thwarts a plot inspired by last year's real-life arrest of four Muslim men accused of conspiring to destroy jet-fuel lines to John F. Kennedy International Airport.
In the thwarting, Sobietti isn't so big on due process. And it's in the resulting uproar, appropriately enough on what appears to be a cable news shout-fest, that he gets his new name. A pony-tailed civil-rights attorney sputters: "Just who does this vigilante think he is? Some . . . some kind of El Cid? A St. James . . . a . . . a . . . Santiago Matamoros?"
That would be St. James, son of Zebedee, who with his brother John was called by Jesus to be a fisher of men. James the Greater, as he was known, was the first of the apostles to be martyred. According to legend, his body was taken up by angels and transported by boat from Jerusalem to Spain, where he once had sought converts to Christianity.
His grave was discovered in 813, in what was to become known as Santiago de Compostela, just in time to help rally Christian Spain against Muslim domination of the peninsula. St. James even was said to have appeared as a sword-wielding knight on a white horse during the battle of Clavijo in 844, and the legend of Santiago Matamoros, Spain's patron saint, was born.
LaMonica says he has already received hate mail about the comic and its title, but he likes the idea of St. James inspiring Spaniards to defend their homeland. He sees that as a natural role for his own Matamoros - and for Americans in general.
"In the mind of [9/11 hijacker] Mohamed Atta, civilian targets in the United States are as much of a legitimate battlefield as the house-to-house fighting in Fallujah," LaMonica says. "We need guys to step up, take them on and resist."
In a sense, Matamoros is carrying on the homeland defense work of the late, great Captain America. Dig up a copy of "Case No. 1," published in the 1940s. The captain is born of a World War II medical experiment that is designed to create a corps of superagents who will "become a powerful force in the battle against spies and saboteurs."
In true superhero fashion, LaMonica and Sleet prefer not to reveal their true identities. They have regular jobs with people who wouldn't appreciate their zeal for fighting the war on terror. And they'll need those jobs, at least until comic sales pick up for either this edition or the next - look for it this spring.
Is comic-book justice simplistic and unreal? Sure. More than what passes for debate on the campaign trail? Not by much. Plus, Matamoros' creators have a better grasp of how Iraq fits into the larger war on terror than many pundits or politicians. Throw in the European and biblical history lessons, and it's $3 well spent.
For more information, visit www.matamoroscomic.comEndText